Prison Population 2022: planning for the future

20 October 2017

The Justice Committee assesses how the Ministry of Justice plans to deal with expected changes in the prison population over the next 5 years.

Purpose of the inquiry

The Justice Committee launches a new inquiry into the prison population, to find out:

  • Who is in prison and who is expected to be imprisoned over the next 5 years
  • The reasons prisoners are there, why they stay there and why they return
  • Whether the Ministry of Justice and prison services currently have a credible approach to accommodating the changes anticipated.


Over the past 15 years the prison population has risen by 20%. Since May 2017 it has unexpectedly risen by 950, and further increases are expected in the next 5 years.

Pressures on the prison population are driven by a number of factors including sentencing policy and practice; policing priorities; the parole system; and, community based provision including mental health, alcohol and drug treatment services.

At the end of September 2017, 71 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded.

The make-up of the prison population is changing: the numbers in the youth justice system have fallen by 70% in the past 10 years, but David Lammy found in his recent review that the proportion from BAME background has increased.

The increase in older prisoners is expected to continue, drive partly by increases in convictions for historic sex offending.

England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe.

Chair's Comments

Committee Chair Bob Neill said:

"Pressures on the prison population are driven by a number of factors including sentencing policy and practice, policing priorities, the parole system, and community based provision including mental health and drug treatment services – as well as wider issues in society. We aim to find out what has led to the current size and make-up of the prison population, and scrutinise the MoJ's plans for the safe and effective management of prisons over the next 5 years."

Terms of Reference

The deadline for written evidence is Monday 4 December 2017.

The evidence received will inform the Committee's future work, including fuller consideration of how best to manage the prison population up to 2022.

  • What is the current and projected make-up of the (sentenced and unsentenced) prison population in England and Wales up to 2022?
  • What has led to the current size and make-up of the prison population?
  • To what extent are these factors taken into account in prison population projections?
  • What is the Ministry of Justice's existing strategy for managing safely and effectively the prison population?
  • What are the implications of the likely rise in the population for the resources required to manage prisons safely and effectively? 
  • What impact does reducing reoffending by existing prisoners and those under the supervision of probation services have on the size and make-up of the prison population?
  • What is Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service's current capacity to manage safely and effectively the prison population?

Government Responses to Justice Committee reports on prisons

The Justice Committee in the 2015-2017 Parliament conducted inquiries into Governor empowerment and prison performance, and on the Prisons and Courts Bill.  The latter fell at the dissolution of Parliament and is not expected to be re-introduced as prisons were not included in the Court Reform Bill planned for this session of Parliament.

Please see below for Government Responses to both these reports:

Further information

Image: Ministry of Justice

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